The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Max Pauli: The Story of a Man's Life
by Heinrich Hofmann.
MAX SETS OUT.
Straight mine eye hath caught new pleasures,
It is pleasant to be young on a May morning when the fields are green and the skies are blue. It is good to hear the cuckoo tell the years you have before you to rejoice in. To be young on a sunny May morning is to hear the trumpets sound and the drums beat, all because you are going forth to try the fortunes of war; even if you sit behind a desk all the time in a dull office in a dull street. But what if you are in very truth setting out to see what the world is made of, and what if you start in great state and glory, with ten days' delightful journey before you, to be mad, en prince, at the end--who knows what of endeavor and success?
Max did not go to Hamburg the next day. The rare post brought a letter from Herr Kieger, his new master, to the effect that he had promised himself a holiday in the spring as a concession to wife and doctor, and that the assistant whose place Max was to fill had promised to remain during the master's absence. Moser had desired to keep Pauli till Easter, to see him, also, over a necessary absence of a fortnight; so Max agreed to do what he felt made him cut a sorry figure--outstay his farewell by three or four months. There were compensations. He was not sorry to be sole manager of the Harzig shop for a fortnight, and there was Hedwig.
Is there any theme on which a young man can wax so eloquent as on the praises of his rival, provided that the lady listen with a warm sense of the speaker's ardour and soupcon of reticence, or what you will, as to say, "All that may be true, but--"?
With a beautiful fervour of friendship, Max went awooing for Peter Bruhm.
"You have no idea what a clever fellow Bruhm is. Why, when I came here I was the merest ignoramus (not that I am much more now!) and my respect for Bruhm knew no bounds because he could construe a Latin author."
It is not quite unpleasant to depreciate oneself in face of a protest of smiling eyes. More than once Max went so far as, "Peter is sure to make his way, and the woman he marries will have a happy home and a loving husband."
Now and again, the few minutes' after-supper chat between the two would take a more interesting turn. When characters come to be analysed as Bruhm's was--just to show up his find points--it is difficult not to give the talk a personal turn; you confess your own aspirations and your failures and your despairs; and can a young person of feeling tell of the eternal despairs of youth to another young person of feeling of the opposite obtund without exciting pity and receiving such comfort as eye and tone and slightest touch can give? But do not mistake. There was no love-making between the two. Max was loyal to his friend; and though he was day and night full of Hedwig, it was all on Bruhm's behalf. He went about bouyant with her confidence and kindness, congratulating himself all the time that he had conquered his passion, and telling Peter how every day Hedwig lent a more willing ear to talk which should forward his suit. As for Bruhm, he was bursting with gratitude towards this brother of his. Sure enough, when he came on a Sunday Hedwig was kind as she could be. No matter who was there, Bruhm, not to say Pauli, was made much of in a specially friendly way. Certainly those last months at Harzig were pleasant; what with a fine sense of virtue, and what with the approval of men and maids, of the maid in the world, anyway, who would ask more?
And now, for crown and consummation, our Max departs, not like ordinary folk, in the open mail-cart--which, on the third day of travelling becomes a diabolical instrument of torture--but in Herr Kieger's comfortable travelling coach. And Hedwig was pale and tearful, and Bruhm tenderly and brotherly, and Moser tender and fatherly; and, of the good burghers of Harzig, not a few were there to wish young Pauli well, Kieger looking on the while, kindly, but rather bored. For the first few miles our hero was inclined to be pensive and sat unobservant, while his new master occupied himself with the last number of the Literary Gazette. But the fields were green and the skies were blue, and already they were among the cherry orchards, and all the world was--
White with blossoming cherry-trees,
and the air was musical with the loves of the linnets and the thrushes and the black-birds; and how could the heart of a young man not be glad? Truly a pleasant thing is to see the sun, and whatsoever the sun lights up on the month of May in that pleasant Saxon-land, which is not unlike the prettiest parts of the English Kent, in its alterations of hill and dale, and the beautiful feathering of wood about the scattered hamlets and villages.
"Ah, this pleasant Saxony has not escaped I see; look at that flax, it might be self-sown. As for Prussia, the change is lamentable. Have you been through Prussia before?"
"No; from Wilhelmstadt to Harzig is all I have seen of the world."
"So; then you won't notice any difference. But the Black Eagle, as you know, spreads his wings over notable country, neat, clean villages, bustling towns, well-tilled fields, everywhere activity and prosperity, and the government en evidence at every turn, uniforms swarming. But as I came south, neglected farms, anxious and excited countenances, decayed shops told in a way that surprised me of general uneasiness. Why in the world did Brunswick with an army of a hundred and forty-eight thousand soldiers allow himself to be beaten by a mob of madmen? Now, here is all Europe plunged in a war, to end, heaven knows when; and see how trade must suffer meantime!"
"Do you think Brunswick could help himself? Do you think people can be beaten when they are possessed with a great idea?"
"Great fiddlesticks! I tell you the French are a nation of fools and madmen! And, not only so; their madness and devilry is spreading like a contagious disease. You would think the English were pretty safe, out of the way as they are, and with little taste for philosophy. But they, too, have found their Rousseau. This number of the Gazette is full of new book, an Inquiry into Political Justice, by one Godwin, which is meant to turn the world upside down."
"Is this Godwin a great author? I don't know the name."
"Not he; he was a nobody; but now he has written his book and is a great reformer with a following of ardent souls; and to judge by the extracts given here 'tis but dull stuff, though it carries sewage enough to befoul a nation."
"Is the book immoral, then?"
"Well, I suppose he would say not. This is his first position, as quoted here--'that man is perfectible, or, in other words, that he is susceptible of perpetual improvement.' It's the teaching of the Encyclopaedists over again, that human nature, in its successive developments, without aid from above or without, would, by degrees, raise society to a state of perfection."
"Isn't that the case?"
"Are you a Kantian? Take care, my young friend! It's easy to split on that rock. Not that I would speak slightingly of Kant; we owe it to him that Germany has kept her head in this general bouleversement of ideas. But this fellow Godwin evolves a new code of morals. Away with the ten commandments and every civil law founded upon them. Man has only one duty--to secure the greatest good for the greatest number.
Father, brother, benefactor, what of them? 'What magic is there in the pronoun my to overturn the decisions of impartial truth? Gratitude, if by gratitude we understand a sentiment of preference which I entertain towards another upon the ground of my having been the subject of his benefits, is no part either of justice or virtue.' So, you see, a man starts pretty free: no claims upon him but that of the general public. I'd like to do that fellow a service--put him in the pillory for example. Here again. 'It is a gross imposition that men are accustomed to put on themselves when they talk of the property bequeathed to them by their ancestors. The property is produced by the daily labour of men who are now in existence.' Here, though, we have the cream of the fellow's superfine morality. Listen to this, 'Marriage, as now understood, is a monopoly, and the worst of monopolies. So long as I seek, by despotic and artificial means, to engross a woman to myself, and to prohibit my neighbour from proving his superior claim, I am guilty of the most odious selfishness.' There you have it; the filial bond, the marriage vow, gratitude, the obligations of a promise, of a testament, cast to the winds in the name of 'justice,' and 'Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost,' all the law and religion left us. I care not a snap for this fellow, not for the English fools who listen to him. All I say is, here's the glorious gospel towards which men are wading through rivers of blood; here's your revolution when the butchery is over. Faugh! I'm sick of the whole thing. Don't say any more."
Kieger leant back with a snort of disgust, and before Max had his answer ready, heavy breathing from the opposite corner told him he was alone with his reflections.
Now if Max had been the philosopher he thought himself, his meditations would have turned on public needs and the public good. What sort of citizen is this man Kieger? And these views of his, did they make for the advance of humanity? But, alas! the poor pronoun my made all the difference to Max. That strong, keen, capable face was the face of his master. "I'm glad I know his views," said this miserable timeserver to himself; "there's no need to run your head against a stone wall. How kind and pleasant and how well informed Kieger is! One learns something in talking with him. How different from poor Moser!" And that reminds him of Hedwig. Not that she was far off, bieng all the time a soft cushion and background for his thoughts.
MAX MEETS A GREAT MAN.
The moon like a flower
They were to put up that night at Vilneu, but the host of the one decent inn of the little town came out full of bland regrets that there was not so much as a skakedown to be had in his house. The passengers by the mail, arrived an hour before, had filled every bed and settle. But there was a beerhouse, not a fit place for the gentlemen, to be sure, but then travellers and beggars, the gentlemen knew, met with strange bedfellows. Not that he knew--the bed might be all right; anyway, he prayed they might meet with none but sleeping partners--and so on.
It was a poor little place; two steps down into the darkness, an earthen floor, a long rough deal table, flanked by benches, stale odours--beer, tobacco, fish, garlic--that was all to be expected; but the occupants--cultivated voices, the soft sweep of ladies' garments,--
"Herr Rumboldt! What good fortune. We were promised strange bedfellows, but my hopes did not rise to this!"
Could it be? And to Max's quick flush and glance, half deferential, half questioning, as he was presented, Kieger responded with--
"You are quite right. It is Rumboldt, of the 'Art of Living.' Lucky dog, you, to meet a great man taking his ease at his inn."
The ladies laughed lightly at the ease of this inn; and Max thought he had never heard a sound so pleasant. And he was presented to Madame Rumboldt and her daughter and son. The young assistant, with his good looks and the modesty and vivacity of his manner, made a good impression; besides, his involuntary tribute of respect to the author was a recommendation to the great man's family. Here was Max, yesterday nobody, to-day living, as one of themselves, with so good a family. In the lives of most ambitious young persons there is a moment when the meaning of "Society" unfolds itself. For the first time they come in contact with persons who differ, they do not know how, from any they have hitherto known. A nameless something in manner, mind, speech, a repose, as of those who have found their place in the world of mind and the world of men, is very captivating to the young who are inclined to exaggerate the importance of this, je ne sais quoi. Max, anyway, felt himself in the company of beings of a superior order.
The two young men set to work to make the best of the comfortless circumstances; they made friends with the landlady, set up a camp under a spreading maple in the court, foraged for provender, cooked; and that supper by moonlight was the most delightful thing in the world. Young Rumboldt was a soldier and head of the commissariat department; but then, was not Max his resourceful aide-de-camp, and, being the outsider, did he not come in for the lion's share of the praise? What a merry supper it was! How lovely was Charlotte Rumboldt, with all the modesty and reserve of a young lady who knows that her words will be listened to with deference, and is in no hurry to speak. Madame, too; how gracious, how full of information, how full of interest in a thousand matters! Max hung upon her lips like the greedy youth he was, with the sure instinct that, for his education in gentle bearing and gentle thinking and all manner of gentlehood, he must depend henceforth on such gentlewomen as she, and take his lessons here and there, as they happened to come. Shall we tell the whole truth? He began to indite his private and particular Guide to Good Society. But we are not going to tell everybody the five-and-twenty wrinkles our diligent Max jotted down--all gathered on that delightful evening.
The young men got up early went fishing in a trout stream their down-at-heels host told them of; and broiled trout for breakfast on a wood-fire of their own making in the courtyard. The breakfast was merrier even than the supper, for everybody knew everybody by this time. Both parties were going to Hamburg. Why not travel together? So they did, and had a fortnight of picnics and sight-seeings and merry frolics, Charlotte losing some of her maidenly reserve, and her presence adding piquancy to the flow of nonsense in which the young men indulged. Another pleasant thing happened to Max. One of the minor distresses of his life had been that he could not talk small talk, had no light artillery to fall back upon when his heavy guns were in the way. And now, behold, here was he, ready to parry graceful and courteous banter with like airy weapon. He was amazed at himself; happy hit, airy jest, little bit from this author and from that just fitting the case, flowed from him almost unawares. He found he could tell a story, too, and had stories to tell. "Can this merry Max be I?" he said to himself a dozen times; but that was a joke and made him the merrier.
"An extremely well-informed young man. Such nice manners, too!"
"That young man has a head on his shoulders."
"A capital fellow; I mean to keep him up."
Thus, the Rumboldt family, as they talk over Max.
YOUTHS AND MAIDENS.
This new life is like to be
So far as the society of young persons of his own age went Max had hitherto lived the life of a recluse. But Hamburg, that rich, free town on the Elbe, was pre-eminently social. In the first place, Hamburg could afford the luxury of society. Your family or your suburb of "narrow means" shows the fact first of all this, people "keep themselves to themselves." Indeed, it is a proverbial mark of good condition and narrow means to say, in the words of a London lodging-house-keeper, "I don't hold with neighbouring." But Hamburg did hold with neighbouring--very much so. Everybody neighboured, from the neat hand-maidens--dainty in gloves and caps of costly lace, come forth to market, with chaffering and chattering marvelous to listen to, while their elegant mistresses sewed crewels at home--to the very highest classes of Hamburg society. Please to accentuate "very highest"--pronounce it with bated breath--for if ever there was a town where society was nicely and exactly graded, where there was no overlapping and no intermixing, and where the highest was very high indeed, it was this free city of Hamburg, which considered itself democratic, if anything, and held in scorn the little States dominated by a "beggarly aristocracy." "We could buy and sell the whole bundle of lesser States any day" was a favorite boast with the Hamburgers, especially with the 'prentice lads and assistants. But truly, Hamburg had grounds for its self-complacency. Everybody, after his kind, was well-to-do. The very peasants of the Hamburg territory were persons of fortune, some of them able to give their daughters marriage portions of ten and twenty thousand dollars. The great country weddings were events; country folk assembled from far and near, in costume, grotesque or picturesque; and the townsfolk went out to see the show and join in the open-air dance, and share the good things, and behave with great condescension. You could not approach Hamburg by sea or land without being impressed with its importance. Once within Hamburg territory, Max found himself passing for eighteen miles, from village to village, so close that the whole distance seemed one continuous village, cradled by the Elbe, tree embowered and finely cultivated, with farm buildings neat and well-kept, good cottages for the labouring folk, and, dotted about in park-like grounds, the lordly mansions of the rich merchants who lived in far more luxury, if with less state, than did many a princely house.
Now the two conditions that prevailed in Hamburg, great and general prosperity on the one hand and sharp lines of social demarcation on the other, conduce to good fellowship, to rollicking jollity in the less, and to ease and wit and graceful freedom in the more cultivated classes. We all know, of course, that the ideal soceity is where man meets man on common ground; but the fusion of classes is not even yet to be accomplished without disturbance, and while Frau Schmidt puts on her stiffest, dullest manner because Frau von Schmidt is in the same company, a long way off, and while Frau von Schmidt is a little grand because she wonders how Frau Schmidt has got there, why, how can we be easy and graceful and lively or any of those pleasant things that make society charming?
"Herr Pauli, I believe?"
Max's "set" has come after him in the person of this handsome young Steinweg, member of a drinking club which included all the bettermost shopkeepers' assistants in Hamburg; a highly select society which would not have admitted a mercer's man or a junior assistant, no, not at the instance of the Mayor himself. They were very merry and kindly and pleasant; and those trips up the Elbe on Sundays, with flags flying, band playing, and lunch under the trees at some charming village, quite luxurious luncheon, good-natured chaff and gossip of the hour, and pretty girls--such very pretty girls--why, Max would have been more of less than a young man if he had not enjoyed them. He got a broken head on one occasion, and not before he richly deserved it. With a sweet and child-like innocence our young man would look about him until his eye rested on some tender blue-eyed Gretchen or sparkling Lotchen. Was she leaning over the boat-rail or reclining on the grass, or even speaking in shy occasional whispers to the swain of her heart, Max would watch his opportunity. He hands her a leafy bough to keep the sun off, or makes a screen of his person to keep the wind off, or picks up the reticule she had dropped. Now for it; doubling his person at an acute angle, Max makes his salaam, and does his little devoir with a glance of such profound and reverent sympathy for the suffering fair one, that what could she do but feel herself a distressed princess on the spot? That she made room for him by her side followed naturally and sworn friends not to be found apart for the length of the day, having all things in common, from a sentiment to a strawberry, which she must touch with her red lips and pearly teeth if he is to enjoy it--and the other poor man hangs about, gnashing his teeth.
"I wonder what there is in me that makes young women think I am in love with them?" he writes, with astonishing mendacity, or was it rustic simplicity? The truth is, "flirting" was an idea which it had not occurred to him to conceive. He was honestly in love with women, and spent tendresse as naturally as a fountain bubbles on the most captivating young woman in company. "How lovely women are," he writes; "is there anything in all Nature to compare with a pair of tender blue eyes, or of soft liquid brown eyes, long eyes, not round, with long curling lashes? That a man should lvoe women is as natural as that he should wake and sleep. How is he to help loving the most lovely bewitching creatures?"
And why in the world should Steinweg make such an absurd fuss about his Lotchen? He might have known had he cared to ask that Max's heart was elsewhere. Nay, was the man blind? Could he not see the sadness which consumed him (Max), and that he loved all women for the sake of one? But no; Steinweg understood none of this, and there was nothing for it but to fight. Max was not loth; his unscarred countenance might be comely, but the men regarded it dubiously, and the maidens wondered why. Of course he went home with a sliced cheek. Steinweg fought two duels a month on an average, and Max had never handled a sword before. But what of it? Lotchen so nearly made love to him the next time he proudly bore his bandages to the Sunday revel that--well, that she, and not her martial swain, succeeded in putting a stop to the little flirtation. So ungrateful are men; flee them, and they follow; come to them, and they go.
"Oh, if these lovely creatures only knew their power over us," wrote the ingrate, "what might they not do to raise us to higher levels? One hates to admit it, but beautiful lips do sometimes utter folly, and what then is their beauty worth?"
The truth is, our fastidious Max was beginning to weary of the society into which he had thrown himself with so much ardour. The mere fact that they were all young together took away the flavour, the give and take, from talk. Indeed, that was the worst of it; conversation was impossible; the small pleasantries which seemed so full of sparkle at first became deadly flat, stale beyond expression. As for ideas, no interchange was possible; such serious talk as took place was no more than the gossip of the several shops, the grievances this one and that had against his master; or, at the best, society gossip at second or third hand,--
"Who danced with whom, and who were like to wed."
This was, in truth, Max's excuse for making every girl he talked to think he was in love with her. With the infallible instinct of youth,he picked out the prettiest maiden as, necessarily, the most intelligent, and having elbowed the rest right and left, and plunged into sudden intimacy with her, out they would come, the great thoughts with which he was bursting, the questions which agitated him; and Gretchen would gaze with eyes, now swimming, now sparkling; with cheek flushing and paling with emotion; and what need of further response beyond the softly murmured "So!" uttered with a hundred variations of tone, to chime in with, not, as Max fondly dreamed, the feeling which stirred him, but the mere tones of his voice? The soft and long-drawn "So-o" was no more than a modest little echo of the sound, not of the sense, which Gretchen never thought of straining after. This did very well for one or two conversations; but the third time of meeting, Max, who was not a hopeless egotist, would know what Gretchen thought, and, alas, the poor little thoughts, the feeble echo of what never had been thought! and Gretchen wondered why Max did not seek her side on their next little jaunt, and cried her blue eyes red over his defection. But Max had the worst of it. You cannot go on for ever making demands for sympathy, mutual intelligence, idea for idea, and be as one knocking at the door of an empty house. His craving for society was as great as ever, but he wrote down some fine sentences in that journal we know of about imperilling his character by association with commonplace minds; and the resolve to break with his Verein was growing quietly within him--as his resolutions commonly did. Besides, there was Winndt, and in Winndt the promise of a friendship which should satisfy his exigeant demands.
(To be continued.)
Typed by Blossom Barden, Feb 2013